U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) seizes merchandise EVERY day (and there is a LOT you can do to get your merchandise back!).  Check out the latest 2011 stats on intellectual property rights enforcement and seizure statistics.

What some don’t know is the merchandise does NOT even have to be destined for the U.S. for CBP to seize it.  Yes, it’s true.  CBP detains and physically inspects cargo daily. CBP is supposed to issue timely detention notices and the detention notices are supposed to include the specific reason for the detention, anticipated length of the detention; nature of the tests or inquiries to be conducted; and nature of any information which, if supplied to U.S. Customs may accelerate the disposition of the detention.  I wish I had a dollar for every importer that told me they never received one, or where the rationale for detention was blank, or said IPR (intellectual property rights)!

I am often retained by client’s just to get CBP on the phone to find out WHY the goods are detained.  As with everything in life, it’s who you know, and who will pick up your phone call.  Wish this process was different, but… typically, it isn’t.

Bottom line, if you hire someone to assist you with this process, ensure they know the internal procedures of CBP, as well as the other agencies laws and regulations it enforces.  Best to get someone involved EARLY – if you can fix the issue during the detention stage, before the goods are seized, you’ll save yourself a LOT of time, and money.

If your merchandise is seized, you have options (while storage fees accrue daily…).   Your provided a Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures (FP&F) case number and assigned a paralegal. The paralegal will send you a “Seizure Notice” – which you have 30 days to respond to (yes, extensions are typically given freely, as long as they are requested BEFORE the 30 days expiration).  Your response is called a “Petition”. If FP&F grants your Petition, sorry to be the one to tell you, but, yes, you do have to pay those hefty storage fees before you can pick up your merchandise. If the Petition is denied, you get a second bite of the apple and can file a “Supplemental Petition”.  FP&F  expects some new information to be in this Supplemental Petition.  You can also file an “Offer in Compromise” – basically your attempt to negotiate with CBP to settle the case. If your second attempt is still wrought with disappointment, you can file a “claim and cost bond”.

You see this is a process?  It can be a rather long process, and above is only a small portion of it! This doesn’t go over the whole internal workings of how a case is decided by FP&F, and who has the power to decide what, that’s a whole different story – see how that works here (page 24)!

Now do you understand why it’s important to ensure you hire an attorney knowledgeable with Customs laws and regulations?

Cliff Notes Version — What should you do if your goods are detained or seized:

  1. Immediately contact a knowledgeable customs attorney (yes, attorneys specialize in this very type of law) or customs broker to actively help you. FYI – I am a board certified EXPERT in international law, and specialize in Customs seizure cases!
  2. Ensure that whomever you hire understands the policies, procedures, and practices of CBP and clearly advises you of your options (you have many!)
  3. Learn from this and make sure your merchandise complies with all relevant laws and regulations applicable to the particular product, prior to importing it into the U.S. (check your trademarks/copyrights – yes the same person can very likely help you with future compliance as well!!)
  4. Spend a few moments to read and really understand your responsibilities as a U.S. importer — click the link to review CBP’s VAST resources for importers to get caught up.